We have now got to the point where our life has become a Series of Last Things.
I've had my last pupil's concert, probably had my last soiree. The kids have had their last school holiday and this weekend we had our last Aussie camping trip with my cousin Meg, her husband Chris and their three kidlets.
I am ashamed to say, that after nearly fifteen years here, we have not managed to master the true Aussie art of camping; I don't think we're really cut out for it. For instance, I have heard that other people play a car game: "I went on holiday and I packed my .....". You probably know it - the idea is that you go round the circle and each person adds something to the list and has to remember what has come before. In our family, we play a game called "I went on holiday and I forgot to pack the .....etc etc."
This holiday was the same as usual. We had to stop en route to buy groceries and the torches we had forgotten to pack, stop again to buy the groceries we forgot to buy. We arrived at the camping site, admirably prepared, or so I thought, with the tent, some food (mostly crisps, cereal and fruit) in a cool box, plates, cutlery and cups, a pan and a frying pan, a table and a camping stove. After all, what more could you possibly need? But Meg and Chris, though they have been in Australia for less time, seem to have adapted better; they had the whole big gazebo strung with lights, the dining-room-table-living-room-suite-and-coffee-table thing going on, though that was nothing compared to most of the tents around us, which looked like soup kitchens for the elite. I always thought that the whole idea of camping was to "get away from it all," but apparently, no, the idea is to "take it all away with you."
Still, in every other way it was the typical and rather wonderful Aussie camping experience. King parrots fighting in the trees as we set up the tents, kookaburras waking us at dawn with their hysterical cackling, having to barricade the food away from the possums, (feeding them chilli sauce seemed to keep them away for one night - inadvertently, I hasten to add) ticks galore, getting bitten by green ants, nearly dying of hypothermia at night, though getting overheated and sweaty during the day. In other words, we had a wonderful time. The kids played endless games of cluedo, we adults drank rather a lot of wine, we feasted on barbecued steak and sausages, bacon and eggs. We sat around the camp fire and played games, sang songs, told stories, read a little, slept a little – a very little – swam in the creek, went walking in the Bush (though I was wearing flip flops, so whilst everyone else charged ahead, I had to do a sort of mincing, crab type walk al the way up Mount Barney and down again, which has left me almost unable to walk.)
The were only two things that marred the experience. One was that the Big Hairy One was not with us, due to the fact that he was in Mexico at the time, so it didn't feel quite right, in spite of the fact that I knew that if he had been there he would have spent the whole time crouched smelling in his tent, complaining and grunting.
The other thing was just the simple fact that I felt so sad that we wouldn't be doing this again, and not with Meg and Chris and their children who are so close to ours, though so much younger. How we will do without them all I just don't know.
It wasn't, thankfully, until we left the camp that I read the sheet of RULES we'd been given, which included “ABSOLUTELY NO noise after 9pm,” (whoops), “No unaccompanied children below the age of 15 allowed in the toilet block, (double whoops), no Bad Language, no Spitting, etc etc. For those non Aussies who might possibly be reading this, I would have to say that, in my experience, this is NOT what I would call a typical Aussie camping experience. More like a Nazi camp. Still, we had a lovely time and it is very strange to think that the next time we unpack our tent, we will likely be in the New Forest or Dorset – or by the side of the road, if our house sale doesn't go through.